My eyes flutter open. I'm lying on a bed. A rather uncomfortable bed. The lights in the room are off, but the curtains are drawn open, allowing watery light to stream into the room.
I sit up with some struggle and survey my surroundings. The room smells like a mix of sick people and detergents. There's a smeared, burnt hand print on the far wall next to the washroom and bloody footprints leading to it. They're faint, though, like someone had tried to clean them. A distant scream emulates my skull, and I blink, unbelieving my eyes. The ghost of a girl is dragged by an invisible force from my bed, her eyes like grey crystals, impaling me. She flies toward the washroom and clasps the wall, leaving behind that print.
I feel sweat prickle my hairline and along my spine. Trying to ignore the hallucination, I pull up the blue gown I'm wearing. A few stitches adorn the raw flesh near my bellybutton.
The door to the room opens and I scramble to pull the gown back down. A young nurse with short bleach blond hair walks in, carrying a tray of soft foods.
“Finally, you’re awake,” she says, smiling. “My name’s Lisa.” She adds enthusiasm to her name. Lame.
“What happened to me?” I ask, my voice breaking.
She places the tray onto the bedside table next to my IV pole. “Internal bleeding."
“They rushed you in here to open you up. You’ll be able to leave soon. Though, I think they might you in here for just another night, just to make sure everything’s A-OK.”
“Hmm.” I look at the food. "I’m not really hungry.”
“That’s okay. You have some lovely people here to see you.”
Who in the world would wanna see me?
Moments later, after blonde left, a boy with a short afro and mocha-toned skin pokes his head into the room, grinning. I grin, haven't seen this kid for a week, which says a lot since we've been best friends since we were four.
“Hey, buddy,” he says, waddling into the room—his jeans hang off his hips, revealing his neon boxers more than necessary.
“What up, Dev?” I say.
“Man, everyone at school—well, everyone who was there—was on about how you beat up that chick and was rushed to the hospital.” He hits my shoulder with a lazy swing of his arm. Did he find that funny? Was it something to be proud of? I got into a fight. Woop. “It's been a little while, huh? Where you been anyway? Other than laying in hospital beds and fighting innocent little girls.”
I can't help chuckling. “School, actually. Where you should go more often.”
“Pft. We barely chill anymore, I think that's a bigger deal.”
“We will. The nurse told me I got one more night here.”
Devin's mom walks in moments later, making us turn in her direction. She's carrying her leather purse in the crook of her arm, both hands intertwined at her bellybutton. Her irresolute doesn't reach her eyes as she strolls to my bedside. “What in heaven's name happened to you, boy?” she asks, but it doen't sound much like a question. She holds my chin, assessing me.
“I'm fine,” I say, glancing between her and Devin.
“If you were fine, you wouldn't be up in no hospital, I can tell you that much.” She pulls away from me.
I chuckle a lazy chuckle. I feel I should follow that up with an actual explanation: “I wasn't feeling well at school. I—you know—vomited, so I was brought here to, um, get checked out.”
Devin stifles a smile, blinking a hint of humour out of his dark eyes.
“Hmm.” Devin's mom tries to smile, narrowing her eyes with suspicion. “Alright.”
It sounded convincing enough, just leaving out the bit about the fight and suspension.
"How are things at home?" she asks. "Good?"
"Yeah." That was a lie.
"How's Amber? Tell her I say hi."
I nod, forcing a smile.
“Well, I'll be in the car, Devin,” she says, beginning to turn.
“Yup,” he says, texting.
“Take care of yourself, Sean.”
I nod, pressing his lips together.
I hadn't seen her in weeks. She looks well, different though, like something's on her mind, something weighty. Of all places to see her again, it has to be a hospital room, with me as the patient. A sense of guilt chews at me. As the minute drags on, I turn back to the window, remembering Charles and Faye and Daniel. My stomach churns. I remember what Mr. Shaw had said: “You've noticed the amount of absences these last couple days, I'm sure.” I don't want to believe it's serious, but I can’t escape the feeling that everyone but me is in on something. My skin chills.
“Did you hear about all the missing kids?” I ask Devin.
He looks up. “No.” He thinks for a moment. “Oh, wait, yeah. My mom told me about it. She says it’s getting serious, but I'm like --” Devin kisses his teeth. “Whatever.”
I bite my cheek. “But, what if she’s right? What if we go missing?”
Devin laughs. “It’s probably nothing, bro.”
“But it’s a lot of people, she said?” When I tell myself it's nothing, I accept it. When Devin insists it, I can't.
“Chill.” Devin is solemn, uncomfortable. “We’re best friends, Sean. I wouldn’t lie to you. We’re not going to go missing.”
“Kay?” He smiles, patting my shoulder. “Lay off the drugs, my boy. Seriously.” He laughs, but it tunes out.
I'm having trouble believing Devin, who never watches the news.